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Priscilla and Aquilla leave Rome

The first "persecution" of Christians by the Roman Empire

Two of Paul’s helpers were Aquila and Priscilla. They were originally Jews from Rome—who became Christian either before or after meeting Paul (we’re not sure)—and then traveled with Paul. But the story of their meeting Paul has its own history. To give some dates, Paul did most of his traveling in the late 40s to the mid 60s (AD); they probably met Paul in AD 49 or 50. But to tell the full story of how Aquila and Priscilla met Paul we have to go back 120 years before, to the year 63 BC.

In that year, 63 BC, the Roman general Pompey "captured" Israel. A leadership disagreement had arisen in Israel between Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, who just happened to be brothers. Pompey was in the area, and the brothers sent representatives to him and asked him to decide. Pompey ultimately decided that Hyrcanus would become High Priest. Aristobulus and his followers did not like this, and refused to let the Romans into Jerusalem. Bad idea. The Romans took the city, and Pompey sent Aristobulus and a number of Jews (either hundreds or thousands, depending on the source) back to Rome.

Other Jews already lived in Rome, but this action resulted in a huge influx of Jews to Rome. Eventually the Jews melted into the population, buying homes, setting up businesses, and opening synagogues. So, by the year, oh say, 40 BC, Rome had a thriving Jewish population.

Fast forward to the year AD 41, eighty-one years later. In that year, Claudius became emperor. Jews in Rome could care less as long as he left them alone. And Claudius does just that for awhile. But eventually he started having problems with the Jews. Suetonius, who wrote "The Life of Claudius," describes the problem and solution: "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome." (25:4) This occurred around the year AD 49.

Many Christian scholars believe this "Chrestus" refers to Jesus Christ. Apparently some Christians were talking about Jesus and causing arguments within the Jewish community. So the emperor expelled the Jews. Some scholars say this may have meant that he expelled them from the synagogues and not Rome itself, since the arguments probably occurred in the synagogues. But whatever the case, some Jews decided to leave Rome. And we know the names of two of those Jews, Aquila and Priscilla.

We know this from Acts 18:2. Starting at the end of verse one, Paul was in "Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome." The couple may have been Christians prior to meeting Paul, perhaps being convinced while in the synagogues in Rome. We don’t know. But we do know that, because of Pompey’s actions in 63 BC, a large number of Jews moved to Rome, and that in the year AD 49, Claudius decided to either expel the Jews from Rome or from their synagogues, and that two of those Jews were Aquila and Priscilla, who decided to move to Corinth where they met Paul the missionary.

Aquila and Priscilla are mentioned in six other places in the New Testament: Three more times in Acts 17, verses 18, 19, and 26; in Romans 16:3, when Paul and the couple were in Corinth; in I Corinthians 16:19, when Paul and the couple were in Ephesus; and in II Timothy 4:19, when Paul was in Rome and the couple were probably in Ephesus.

Also, this was not a violent persecution, such as the Roman Empire unleashed on Christians beginning with Nero. Instead it was a peaceful persecution in which Christians had to leave but did not lose their lives.

©2008 Mark Nickens All Rights Reserved